Sunday, March 11, 2012
There are already many blogs and forums that address all the questions that people have about the wisdom or barefoot running. I share many of the concerns that are common but have still decided to do some of my running miles completely barefoot from now on.
Here is a short version of how I've dealt with the concerns:
1. What to do about stepping in a rusty nail or other object
The easiest way to step into a rusty nail is not on the average street but in places where objects are hard to see: in grass, in sand or in water. The one time I stepped into rusty nail I was walking through a shallow stream in sandals. It hurt like hell, I got some antibiotics and an update of my tetanus shot right away and the injury healed in about a week. Having a tetanus shot every 10 years, and more often for people who are at higher risk is a good idea for anyone.
2. Stepping into things that are unpleasant
This can be avoided by looking where we are going. There are bacteria on the surface we walk or run on barefoot but not as many as in our shoes, a moist environment that bacteria love.
3. Possibility of getting blisters
People who take off their shoes and gradually walk barefoot more will develop tough skin on the bottom of their feet. This is no different than guitar players developing calluses on their finger tips very quickly when they play regularly. The key is to listen to our body and stop when it starts getting uncomfortable. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable. The calluses that develop do not look rough and ugly but like fairly normal skin, just thicker. If you don't believe me look at some feet of barefoot runners on youtube.
4. Getting stone bruises
Stepping on occasional small pieces of gravel on an otherwise smooth road is a little uncomfortable, but no more so than getting a piece of gravel caught in our sandals. We stop, remove it and forget about it. When I ran barefoot for two miles yesterday this happened more than once. My body immediately, without conscious thought, adjusted by my spreading my weight differently for that step. This is the miracle of our brain responding by initiating movement in response to pressure. My conscious self was merely observing after the fact.
5. Taking shoes off will lead to overuse injuries
This one is true - if we don't listen to our body
Any running through pain and even discomfort can lead to injuries. Pain is the body's natural signal to slow down or stop. We can mentally override mild or sometimes even severe pain responses in an emergency (when we are chased by a Grizzly) but most of the time we should not try to ignore pain.
For any new activity we start we need to gradually condition or body. How long this takes depends on the number and size of muscle groups and connective tissue, age, speed of the movement, duration etc.
6. Going barefoot will only work for "normal" feet
There are situations where barefoot running is not a good idea. Examples are a comromised immune system, diabetes and other problems of circulation in the legs that make minor infections more dangerous.
Having flat feet or overpronating are not reasons to avoid barefooting. Using muscles in the foot that were not used much while wearing shoes every day can improve overall foot health dramatically. There are many barefoot runners who report that their feet develop nice arches after months of barefoot running. There is much discussion about this among podiatrists currently whether orthotics help or hurt.
This does not mean that there are not foot problems where going barefoot is contraindicated. If in doubt do your own research.
On the plus side I have to report that beyond the benefits of saving money on running shoes and making good running form easier that my own biggest worry, that of stumbling and getting bloody toes, has not happened. Even in my minimalist shoes I will occasionally stumble towards the end of a run when I get tired and don't lift my feet as much. I typically catch the front of the shoe and can usually catch myself. Barefoot this has not happened. My body knows it's own dimensions better than I thought, proprioception at it's best.
7. Looking like a weirdo
Yes, if you live in redneck country this could be a problem.
In most other places not so much.
I did feel a little self-conscious as I was jogging in my jeans when I did not have time to switch into running gear yesterday, holding a pair of VFF's (Vibram Five Fingers) in my hand (in case my feet needed them) going down the local trail. A couple of people smiled, amused at what I was doing. Nobody seemed offended, maybe curious.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
1. Take one week to walk around the house barefoot a lot; jog in place or from room to room in the house for a few minutes every day during this week
2. In week two start walking barefoot outside on a fairly smooth but firm surface (asphalt is ideal) as long as you are comfortable; try an easy jog of about 1/4 mile maximum
3. Starting with week 3 increase your jogging barefoot by a 1/4 mile per week until you reach 2 miles.
4. After this, increase you barefoot miles very slowly over the course of another 2 months until you are at a comfortable training level.
When you start step 4 you can switch to minimalist shoes if that seems more appealing. Have someone take a video of you running from front and back and from the side and watch it to see if you are doing what you think you are doing.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
It was short, only 0.6 miles on asphalt. Once the road turned to chip-sealed I could only keep going another 100 feet or so comfortably. The weather was over 60 degrees so I was definitely not cold. My running felt no different to me than running in my Vibram Five Fingers or any other minimalist shoes but that does not mean that it wasn't different. I think I will continue to do this and build up my distance a little each time. Today my total running time was only about 20 minutes, although I did a fair amount of walking as well. It seems that I'm a little more tired these last few days as my body is switching back to ketosis.
Until now I had mostly been running in minimalist shoes and I used these since my first steps towards becoming a runner 2 years ago, the couch to 5 K program.
The definition of minimalist shoe to me is anything that has a completely flexible sole that will bend easily in both directions, has no heel or arch support, has no or almost no cushioning and lots of room for toes to spread out. When I first started minimalist running was still not very common. I started a thread about it on another well-known exercise forum and there were only 2-3 people who were taking me seriously. None of our local sports and outdoor equipment stores carried any minimalist running shoes. Things have changed a great deal since then. There are hundreds of different models and brands of minimalist shoes for all types of running, walking and other sports, including boots and dress shoes. Most shoe and sports equipment stores have at least a few models and their sales people have at least a vague idea what minimalist means. By the way, there is no "barefoot" shoe. Barefoot means the absence of shoes (in spite of what some shoe manufacturers would like us to believe through naming their product).
So why does it matter? Well, people who have been running in traditional running shoes with lots of padding and support are used to running with very little ground feel. Their running technique is affected by their choice of shoes. When switching away from traditional running shoes people have to learn a very different style of running. It's almost better to consider this a different sport, sort of like the difference between tennis and table tennis. There are different muscles working, many of them in the feet and ankles, and at a different intensity. Part of learning the correct form is to have the best ground feel possible, something that can not be done as easily in any kind of shoe, even the thinnest, most flexible kind. Depending on what surface you run on, even the very thin cushioning of a minimalist shoe could still make heel striking possible and that needs to be avoided because that is what causes many running injuries and wear and tear on joints but also causes a braking action with every step.
Once the running technique is good putting on minimalist shoes won't do any damage any more. Still, I like the idea of an occasional tune-up to test my running form just like people who ride horses occasionally ride without stirrups and/or bareback to test how balanced and relaxed their seat is. In running, like in riding, balance is very important. When we are balanced we need less muscle strength for efficient forward movement. Learning to move from our center (both physically and emotionally) helps us to engage our core muscles but without rigidity, instead it is a flexible strength. When I talk about core muscles I am not just talking about abs but about all the muscles that enable us to lengthen through our spine. At the same time our limbs swing naturally and relaxed and in rhythm. The amazing thing is that this way of moving does not all have to be learned, although this is possible (Chi running is the best example), but just taking our shoes off and looking ahead where we are going while running at a very easy and relaxed pace will give the most benefit. This does assume running on a firm surface because on grass or soft dirt it is possible to heel strike and over stride even when barefoot.
If you don't currently suffer from running injuries (they should be allowed to heal first) and want to reduce the chance of developing any and save your joints you may want to give barefoot or minimalist running a try. It's a great way of moving, especially for people who still have a couple of pounds to lose but want to go faster than walking.
Friday, March 09, 2012
I found this link in a thread on one of my spark teams, can't remember now where, if it was you, thank you.
It is fairly short and to the point.
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